* Championship Points Race Tightens After Benson's Hot Streak
* Speeds Soar On New Las Vegas Motor Speedway Layout
* Hamilton Spreads Positive Message To Cancer Survivors In D.C.
* Talladega Is New To Series But Familiar Territory For Some
Johnny Benson Closes Gap With Six Races Remaining
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 25, 2006) -- In typical NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series fashion, the championship points battle is intensifying as the series heads towards its fall finale.
Todd Bodine (No. 30 Lumber Liquidators Toyota) continues to lead, but his once-mammoth margin of 182 points, which he held after the 15th race of the season at Indianapolis, has been cut in half thanks to Johnny Benson's performances in the last four races.
Benson, driver of the No. 23 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Toyota, has two wins and two fourth-place finishes in his last four starts.
Bodine's 91-point advantage over Benson seems narrow compared to his previous margin, but in put into a historical perspective, it's the fourth-largest margin in series history with six races remaining.
Benson says it's been a great season no matter what the points standings reflect.
"We have not lost any sleep over the points battle," said Benson. "I have been fortunate enough to have won a couple of championships in my career and you really can't do much about them. You really just have to go to the racetrack each week and do the best you can and the points will take care of themselves."
"Todd Bodine is going to be really hard to catch," said Benson. "He has some really big numbers for us to go get, and we are going to have to battle for every point. The 30 team is not going to hand us anything. We need to have a lot of weekends like we did at Loudon or Las Vegas in order to have a chance to win the championship."
The past bodes well for the leader. In the three largest margins with six to go (Greg Biffle, 2000, 193; Ron Hornaday Jr., 1996, 152; and Jack Sprague, 1997, 95), the then-leader went on the claim the title.
"New" Las Vegas Lives Up To Expectations
Last week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, virtually the whole field (32 of 36 starters) bettered Mike Skinner's two-year old track qualifying record (165.320 mph) on the 12-degree banking in 2004.
Skinner, driver of the No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota, set a new record of 178.065 mph as he became the first driver to win three consecutive poles at two different tracks. The race itself ran at record speeds under green -- over 173 mph in the early stages -- before caution negated the effects of the new 20degree banking. Trucks battled side-by-side among the top 10 with six drivers exchanging the lead nine times.
"It's definitely a two-groove racetrack and you can pass here," said Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar Truck Corral Ford), who finished 14th. "It's fast and it's fun to race."
Sixteenth-place finisher Terry Cook (No. 10 Ford Power Stroke Diesel by International Ford) agrees.
"I think this facility will only get better as time progresses," said Cook. "It's kind of like a fine wine -- as the racetrack ages it will be better and we'll be racing higher up on the racetrack."
An estimated crowd of 65,000 turned out to see what the changes were all about. That's the season's third-largest attendance after Daytona and Kansas and highest for a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series stand-alone event.
News & Notes -- Part II
Bobby Hamilton takes cancer fight to Washington ... Bobby Hamilton spent Tuesday and Wednesday last week in Washington, D.C., as an Ambassador for the State of Tennessee in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life and the Celebration on the Hill, a Cancer Action Network event. Hamilton spoke at fundraising events, one to a crowd of more than 4,000 people. "Thank you for letting me be a part of your family," Hamilton told other cancer survivors. "The support you get from cancer patients and their families is tremendous. It makes you want to fight even harder."
Talladega trip ... The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Talladega 250 is NASCAR's first race at Talladega Superspeedway since the 2.66-mile track was re-paved. It's also the first visit for the Craftsman Truck Series, but many drivers have experienced NASCAR's largest superspeedway in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and NASCAR Busch Series competition. The top-20 drivers in the current series standings have made a combined 79 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series starts at Talladega, led by reigning series champion Ted Musgrave (No. 9 Team ASE/Germain Motors Toyota), a veteran of 20 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races at the track.
Several of the top-20 drivers have also raced in the NASCAR Busch Series at Talladega. Points leader Todd Bodine competed in nine NASCAR Busch Series events there from 19922003.
Former Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope is also expected to compete in the Talladega 250. Cope is scheduled to drive the No. 40 Key Motorsports Chevrolet.
Skinner going strong ... Mike Skinner, at age 49 years, three months, is the third-oldest driver to win a series race -- a month younger than Musgrave was when he won at Gateway International Raceway in April 2005. Joe Ruttman remains the oldest winning driver at age 56 years, 6 months.
Toyota got its 10th win of the season at Las Vegas -- a season-high for the third year manufacturer that won nine times in 2005. As a result, Toyota extended its lead in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Manufacturers' Championship standings.
ETC: ... Bill Davis Racing has five wins (four by Benson, one by Skinner) to become the leading owner in the series. ... Skinner is the season's 10th different winner. This marks the ninth time in 12 seasons that the series has produced 10 or more winners. The record is 14, two times (most recently 2005). ... Skinner broke a 25-race winless streak that began at New Hampshire on Sept. 17, 2005. Skinner has won six times from the pole -- but the last was in 1996 at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis. ... Skinner's pole was his 30th extending the series record. ... Marcos Ambrose (No. 20 Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards Ford) headed a season-high three Raybestos rookies finishing among the top 10 at Las Vegas. Ambrose (seventh) was the rookie race leader for the third time. The Australian has led four races -- most by a Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate. ... Mike Bliss (No. 16 Xpress Motorsports Chevrolet) won $22,500 for finishing third at Las Vegas and became the eighth different series driver to win a career $3 million. His total is $3,002,601.
The Race: Talladega 250
The Place: Talladega Superspeedway
The Date: Oct. 7, 2006
The Time: 3:15 p.m. (ET)
Race Distance: 250.04 miles (94 laps)
TV: SPEED, 2:30 p.m. (ET)
Track Layout: 2.66-mile banked oval
Race Purse: $753,800
2005 Winner: First event
2005 Pole: First event
Schedule: Thursday -- Practice, 12:10 - 1 p.m., 1:50 -- 2 p.m. and 2:20 -- 3:20 p.m. Friday - Qualifying, 11:15 a.m.